Volunteering and Youth Employability
One of the objectives of the WorkFit Campaign is to scale work readiness programmes to address the challenge of unemployed youth. So many programmes seem to have such high costs that they are not going to scale. We learned that volunteering is a viable way of scaling work readiness programmes.
One of the pleasures of running our public workshops is to meet passionate people who are doing amazing work in the job and work readiness space. Janine Hansen who is the Executive Officer at Action Volunteers Africa (AVA) is no exception.
Their core programme Work 4 Progress is based on volunteering. They started this programme in 2013. They recruit young people who have not yet managed to progress after school. The youth get taken through a short development programme and are then placed with NGOs for work experience. They work as volunteers and not as employees. They do get a stipend for transport. The youth also get on-going support from AVA during their work placement.
In a variation on this programme AVA have also partnered with SMMEs to take on the youth for a year. The programme benefits the SMME by providing additional human resources at a time they may be growing but can’t afford to take on additional staff. The SMMEs learn that young people are willing and able to add value. All it takes is a little guidance and mentorship. The youth gain skills, experience and self-confidence.
AVA have also become involved in additional initiatives such as the Western Cape Government YearBeyond programme. This programme recruits high potential youth with demonstrated leadership capabilities, good academic results and competencies in Maths, Science, Technology and English, a track record of community involvement, problem solving skills etc. After attending short courses at Stellenbosch University the volunteers provide support to learners in township schools. During their year of volunteering they also continue to receive a range of additional inputs to help them develop their leadership and employability skills.
AVA is also involved in various other initiatives such as YES4Youth, LiteraSEA , now Khanyisa Youth Cafes and LifeMatters
What struck us forcibly was how volunteering can have many benefits that conventional youth employment programmes do not.
Firstly, because these interventions rely on small stipends the programme costs are lower. The risk in providing stipends is that the families of the volunteer become seen as income for the family- not unexpected in areas of great poverty. The YearBeyond programme deliberately states up front that the stipend is small, only really sufficient for transport. This is in contrast to some high profile work readiness programmes which are perceived as very costly. The Return on Investment studies done on these type of programmes counter the argument. But the costing is done on the basis of recruitment costs of large organisations. This costing model is not easily scaled for the large numbers of unemployed youth that we have in the country.
Secondly, volunteering is accessible to small businesses and non-profit organisations who may not have the financial, human or administrative resources to get involved in conventional youth employment initiatives such as those incentivised by SETAs or the B-BBEE scorecard. These organisations typically run on a very lean staff capacity and therefore are keenly aware of the value of additional help in the form of volunteers, and therefore find the volunteering model appealing.
The volunteering approach clearly works because over 90% of AVA graduates go on to find meaningful jobs. The volunteering ethos spills over to sponsors and employers,who volunteer their skills and experience to assist the youth through training and mentoring.
Finally, the model can be implemented anywhere. It’s Janine’s vision too take this to rural areas where job opportunities and exposure to working conditions are much more limited.
We were also inspired by AVA’s intention to reach a place of financial sustainability and no longer be dependent on donor funding, as is the case with many non-profits in this sector.